The expression “Jack of all trades, master of none” applies to Salvation Prophecy about as well as it applies to any game ever made. Salvation Prophecy is a highly unique blend of third person shooting, space combat, and a 4X strategy game, with a little bit of Mass Effect thrown in for good measure. It excels at nothing and its production values are brutal at times, but its “Space War” theme ties everything together competently. And, it has just enough going for it with quirky indie charm to keep its pieces from flying apart. So, while it is hard to find anything in particular that you will love about the game, it is still worth playing, if for no other reason than that there is nothing else at all like it out there.
Salvation Prophecy tells the story of four factions, The Salvation, The Drone Union, The Wyr, and The Free Nations. You choose to play as a soldier in one of these four factions, and then you spend most of the game fighting these factions for control of the map. Battles take place on foot on planets, or in ships in space. You start off the game taking missions from your commander, destroying or defending colonies and destroying or defending space stations. With each mission, you gain money and some improvements to some basic RPG attributes, like rank and skill. With your money, you buy improvements to your ship and to your on-foot weapons. Eventually, when you get high enough in rank, the game hands you the reins and lets you be the supreme commander of your faction. Then, in addition to going on missions, you get to determine what the missions are and how resources get spent. Every once in a while, you pick up a story mission. Towards the end, a major story event happens, and then suddenly the space war between the four factions takes a back seat. The game doesn’t end when you destroy the other factions, but rather when you complete the game’s story.
Shooting, flying through space, commanding your faction, buying stuff – it is a lot for the game to throw at you, and it spreads itself pretty thin as a result – perhaps too thin. The space battles are probably the area where the game is the strongest, but even those parts wouldn’t stand on their own as a result of having great mechanics.
The on-foot shooting battles benefit from sheer scale – they typically involve you and 20 of your allies attacking a colony defended by 50+ enemies, on top of turrets, a mech, and a bunch of buildings. Given how small and linear most shooters tend to be nowadays, the large, wide open battles in Salvation Prophecy are a welcome change. The number of soldiers that engage each other during the height of each battle is impressive. These battles are also where the game’s presentation is at its worst. The music selection is repetitive, the sound effects (like the weak sounding “pew pew” of your standard weapon) are simple and plain, and the animations are primitive, if not nonexistent. The game looks halfway decent in a still frame, but in motion it looks awful. Melee attack animations look really bad, and death animations are especially bad – when they die, enemies just turn blue and fade away as they fall to the ground like a character from a 1990s video game. Buildings fade out too when they are destroyed, instead of exploding in a satisfying way. The enemies that you fight, especially buildings and turrets, are all bullet sponges. This means that you can expect to do lots of circle strafing as you hold down the attack button and watch your enemy’s health drain slowly, 1% at a time. The on foot battles also get pretty repetitive. By the time that you are halfway through the game, pretty much every battle has the same major pieces and the tactics that you use to win them are the same.
If you aren’t involved in any on-foot action, then you are typically hanging out at a friendly space station or flying through space in your personal fighting ship. You can go on bounty hunting missions alone, but most of the missions involve you and a squadron of 20 other ships trying to blow up an enemy space station or defend one of your own. Although they get frustrating at times, the space battles at least decent. The game does a nice job of training you through difficulty – in other words, it forces you to learn the nuances of the game’s mechanics. For example, early in the game, enemies’ shields don’t regenerate. As it gets harder though, enemies will regenerate back up to full health if they get below a certain level. So, it becomes imperative that you learn how to use missiles to blow up enemies before they can regenerate. The space battles are also where the game’s production values are the best. The explosions look and sound great. The ships look cool and each faction has a different design. Every battle starts off with a chaotic look to it, as dozens of enemies shoot at each other in a cloud of red laser blasts flying back and forth. It is both an impressive and an intimidating sight to see.
There are also some interesting fast travel options that you will need to use to get around the map. Shorter range fast travel involves jumping into a type of hyperspace and speeding down a lightning filled tunnel as you dodge the dangerous bolts. Longer range fast travel involves travel through some pretty interesting wormholes. Once again, these parts are where the game looks and sounds the best.
The colonial and space battles both share a flaw though – as the game progresses, your allies become progressively more useless, because you and your enemies get stronger while allies don't. As a result, battles increasingly become one man affairs, where your allies are little more than fodder that you hope can survive long enough for you to do all the work. The space battles, can get especially annoying when you attack an enemy installation and you find that all 20 ships that you came with have been destroyed in a manner of a few minutes.
Despite its flaws though, Salvation Prophecy flows nicely for a while. Everything in the game fits with what it is trying to accomplish. The fun factor takes a hit, however, when you max out all of your weapons and characteristics. At this point you become the supreme commander and experience the game’s undercooked 4X strategy portion. This part of the game is a grind, and as you'll find out later, it is essentially filler that you must survive long enough to trigger the story missions and end the game. It is pretty much impossible to win anyways. You have one resource and collect them by colonizing planets. Colonies and space stations can be built, and attack orders can be placed against enemy colonies and planets. It is very simple and somewhat tedious. It is also rather frustrating, without you there to help them, AI soldiers and pilots suck at attacking and defending. Keeping your empire alive feels like treading water – build two colonies, max out their defenses, and then they get destroyed almost immediately. You rebuild one colony, destroy an enemy colony, and then find out right after that the colony you just rebuilt has been destroyed again. This part of the game mostly has you putting out fires and trying not to become extinct, wondering what the hell you are doing wrong. What the game doesn’t tell you is that you don’t have to win, because every once in a while, a story mission will become available for you. There is no apparent way to trigger these missions though. They just come up after you have been grinding for a long time.
The story missions mostly involve exploring a new planet on foot. They aren’t great, but they at least provide some variety in a game that gets pretty repetitive by the end. They also provide you with some cool abilities, like the ability to summon a dinosaur to help you out during your battles. Yes, a dinosaur – this is part of the quirky indie charm that the game offers. Eventually, the story takes center stage, and you end the game with a couple of pretty tough solo missions.
Looking back on my experience playing Salvation Prophecy, I can’t think of any moment that really stood out for me as being outstanding, yet I never wanted to quit playing it. It is a classic “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” experience. The space war theme, the story, and your own personal journey to become the supreme commander of your faction tie together all of the game’s seemingly unrelated elements. There is nothing in the game the feels like it doesn’t belong. It takes a little too long to get to the end once the strategy portion of the game starts, but the game otherwise hits its mark. So, while the game’s rough edges may be off putting, you should still check out Salvation Prophecy if you are looking for a change of pace, or if you are starving for a space combat game, of which there have been very few lately.